The Scoop on White Sugar
The most commonly used sweetener is white sugar, which can wreak havoc on blood sugar levels. Frequent or excessive use of white sugar can result in a host of unfortunate health issues, from increased disease risks, to suppressed immune function, to dental cavities.
White sugar — crystallized sucrose derived from sugarcane or sugar beets — is highly refined, providing that familiar instant-gratification sugar rush (a rapid spike in blood sugar levels) resulting in an equally rapid post-sugar crash. White sugar’s high-temperature refining process strips it of any nutrients found in the source root or cane, then crystallizes the resulting juice into tiny, quickly-dissolved granules. To achieve the pure white end-product, white sugar usually requires multiple chemical processes to bleach it into the colorless, empty calorie oblivion North Americans consume by the ton. Not exactly what you bargained for in that dessert.
Sweet Alternatives and Sugar Substitutes
Although sugar isn’t necessarily the root of all evil, it does top the list of empty calorie culprits—refined sugar is calorie-dense but provides zero nutrients. Thankfully, there are a few natural sweeteners on the market that can give you the sweetness you seek without extra additives or chemicals — and some can even provide some vitamins and mineral to boot. Here are the top 5 natural sweeteners:
- Stevia: Actually an herb, stevia can be anywhere from 30-300 times sweeter than sugar based on the part of the plant used. With a whopping zero calories, the leaf provides phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, fiber, iron, vitamin C and vitamin A. Stevia also does not affect blood sugar levels, but won’t cook well for baked delights so it’s best to use a small amount of stevia to sweeten smoothies or your morning tea.
- Coconut Sugar: The nectar from a coconut flower is collected and then boiled down and granulated — no chemicals needed. Coconut sugar can be substituted in recipes in a 1:1 ratio and closely resembles brown sugar. This healthy sweetener also contains rich sources of potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron, and vitamins B1, 2, 3, and B6.
- Date Sugar: This ‘sugar’ is actually just ground dates, so it doesn’t get much more natural than that. It is coarse in texture and provides vitamins and minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, copper, zinc, and selenium.
- Agave: Straight from the sap of the agave plant, agave syrup or nectar is mostly fructose, and thus has a low glycemic index compared to white sugar (helping you avoid that sugar rush). Saponins found in agave may also have anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties. Use roughly 2/3 cup agave per cup of sugar and reduce liquids by 1/3 but this may vary based on the recipe.
- Yacon: Rich in vitamins, yacon syrup delivers sweetness primarily from fructooligosacharides (FOS), an indigestible fiber-like sugar that makes up 50% of the yacon root; FOS is shown to have no impact on blood glucose. Low in calories, yacon syrup is evaporated in a similar fashion to maple syrup from the juice of the yacon tuber. Native to the Andes in Peru, yacon syrup has a caramel or molasses-like flavor.